Italy’s far-right opposition on Thursday lashed out at a government minister whose tearful moment while announcing a temporary amnesty for irregular migrants has gone viral on social media.
The backlash came after the government said it would give migrant workers illegally employed in agriculture, as maids, or as domestic caregivers, the right to apply for a six-month residence permit.
“For me, for where I come from, it is a fundamental issue,” Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova said late on Wednesday, breaking into tears during a news conference announcing the move.
“From today, with the choice made by this government, the invisibles will become less invisible, the brutally exploited … will be able to have a work permit,” she said.
The decision is part of a 55-billion-euro (60-billion-dollar) decree to prop up the Italian economy following one of world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.
Opposition leader Matteo Salvini, of the far-right League party, was not impressed.
“Bellanova should be crying for the Italians before crying for clandestines,” he wrote on Twitter, where the hashtag #TeresaBellanova was trending on Thursday.
Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy, another far-right opposition party, said she was “stunned” that Bellanova wept for migrants rather than “hundreds, maybe thousands” of Italians fearing for their jobs.
In a Facebook message, the minister responded to criticism defending the right to show her emotions, and she attacked those who saw her tears as a sign of female weakness.
“The strength of women, and also of many men, is actually being able to cry: there is no such thing as ‘gender crying,’ because the only gender who knows how to cry is the human one,” she wrote.
Bellanova, 61, a former farm labourer and trade unionist, proposed the amnesty to fill labour shortages caused by the epidemic, and free undocumented migrants from the common risk of exploitation.
Italy has long relied on seasonal workers from Romania, Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries to work as fruit and vegetable pickers, but virus travel restrictions have blocked their arrival.
However, farming lobby Coldiretti said the amnesty was “not enough” to solve a pressing labour shortage problem, because it would take time to give work permits to undocumented migrants.
Coldiretti President Ettore Prandini instead proposed simplifying rules for casual work so that the unemployed, pensioners and students could find new work in the fields.
He also urged the government to work “with countries like Romania” to organise safe corridors for seasonal workers, following the example of Germany and Romania.
According to Coldiretti, Italy is missing around 200,000 farm workers for the spring harvest season, which started with cherry picking in the south-eastern region of Puglia.
Italy is stuck in one of the world’s worst novel coronavirus epidemics.
As of Wednesday, it had reported 31,106 deaths and 222,104 infections.